Celebrating Legislative Successes in 2018—Children’s Health

This week, Illinois gets a new governor and a new General Assembly. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the substantial legislative gains on issues Illinois PTA supported affecting our children and youth in the areas of health, including mental health, safety, gun control, social and emotional learning, and special education. You can help continue our success by adding your voice to our voice on February 6, 2019 for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield. In today’s article, we look back at new laws covering children’s health and mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Training

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), although 1 in 5 children in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, only 21% of affected children actually receive needed treatment. The results of the failure to identify these disorders can lead to isolation, depression, violence, drug use, or suicide. Identification of these issues is the first step in obtaining necessary treatment. Public Act (PA) 100-0903(formerly House Bill 4658) amends the School Codeconcerning Mental Health Awareness to provide for the in-service training of licensed school personnel and administrators to identify the warning signs of mental illness and suicidal behavior in youth from kindergarten through 12thgrade.

Flu and Meningitis Vaccine Information

In terms of overall health, we supported Senate Bill 2654 (SB2654), now PA 100-0977 which requires the development and provision of much-needed information regarding influenza and meningococcal disease and their related vaccinesto the parents and guardians of students. Both illnesses can lead to a substantial number of days lost from school for students, and, in the worst cases, can lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meningococcal related illnesses, which can include certain infections in the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and bloodstream infections, are often severe and can be deadly. With respect to influenza, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there were 174 pediatric deaths from influenza during this past flu season. While influenza and meningococcal diseases are highly preventable with these vaccines, many parents and guardians do not have adequate information on these diseases and the vaccines to make appropriate choices for their children.

HPV Vaccine Information

We also supported SB2866, now PA 100-0741 which requires the provision of Human Papillomavirus Vaccination (HPV) informationby the Department of Public Health to all students entering sixth grade and their parents or legal guardians so that families have the information available and can choose to protect their children with vaccinations before they are ever exposed to the HPV virus. According to the CDC, HPV causes approximately 31,500 new cases of cancer each year. Both the CDC and the AAP recommend immunization against HPV for all 11-year-old through 12-year-old children as part of the adolescent immunization platform.

Asthma and Allergies

Two new statutes that amend the School Code concern students with asthma and/or allergies. For millions of children with allergies and asthma, pollens, molds and exposure to potential allergens and viruses in class can take a high toll. According to the CDC, asthma, which can be triggered by allergies and respiratory illnesses, is one of the major reasons why students miss school. PA 100-0726(formerly SB3015)amends the School Code regarding Asthma Medication Administrationto provide that a school district or school may authorize a school nurse or other trained personnel to: provide undesignated asthma medication to a student for self-administration or to personnel authorized to administer the medication pursuant to a student’s Health Care Action Plan, asthma action plan, IEP, or 504 Plan (“Student Plans”); administer undesignated asthma medication that meets the prescription on file to any student with a Student Plan; and, if necessary, administer an undesignated asthma medication to any person that they believe in good faith to be in respiratory distress. Additionally, the statute provides for a training curriculum to ensure that the signs and symptoms of respiratory distress are recognized and responded to appropriately, and permits a supply of asthma medication to be maintained in a secure location that is accessible before, during or after school.

PA 100-0799 – the Epinephrine Injector Act(formerly SB2889) will allow school districts to choose the least expensive drug option to have on hand in the event of an anaphylactic reaction. Allergies and anaphylactic reactions continue to be important health concerns for many school age children. Statistically, twenty-five percent (25%) of first time allergic reactions occur in a school setting. The time to respond to a severe allergic reaction with appropriate treatment is critical. However, recent increases in the cost of the epinephrine auto-injectors have made their availability difficult for schools. The Epinephrine Injector Act gives them options for less costly, but still effective treatment for children and youth undergoing an anaphylactic reaction.

Dental Exams Before 9thGrade

In terms of dental health, we supported HB4908, now PA100-0829 regarding Dental Examinations for Youths. According to the AAP, there are a number of reasons to have a dental exam beyond the fact that early childhood dental caries is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Many diseases, including diabetes, certain autoimmune system disorders, and cancer, can be detected in a dental oral exam before symptoms show up elsewhere. This statute now adds the requirement that all children in ninth grade have a dental examinations.

Take Action

Do we have more to do? Every day! How can you help? Sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Networkto stay up to date on issues, and  join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.

 

Illinois PTA Guide to the Midterm Elections

The midterm election is just three weeks away on November 6th. Here are some things PTA members should know before heading to the polls.

Voter Registration

It is too late to register with a mail-in paper voter registration form for the November 6thelection, but you can register online until October 21st. Illinois also has same-day voter registration, so you can show up at your polling place and register to vote there. That also means that if for some reason your name does not show up on the list of registered voters at your polling place, you can still vote that day.

Issues

Illinois PTA maintains a legislator scorecard for Illinois House and Senate members. You can look up the voting history of your legislators through Voter Voice and clicking on the “View Scorecard” link in the sidebar.

If you have the opportunity to ask a question of your state legislator at an event, here are some that you might want to ask:

  • Illinois passed a new school funding formula last year and verbally (but not in law) promised to increase state education funding by $3.5 billion over the next 10 years. Is the candidate committed to the increased funding and how do they plan to provide it?
  • The new evidence-based funding model that Illinois passed indicates that adequate school funding will require at least an additional $7 billion dollars. Does the candidate support continuing additional funding past the promised 10 years or accelerating the rate of additional education funding to get to adequate funding for all Illinois students and how will those additional funds be provided?
  • As part of the new funding model bill, a new $100 million scholarship fund was created for a five-year period to provide scholarships for students to attend private schools. Limited data from the first round of those scholarships indicates that the majority of those funds are going to students who were already enrolled in private schools. Does the candidate support sunsetting the fund after five years or closing the fund before five years to move the extra funding to public schools?
  • While Illinois has increased funding for early childhood programs in recent years, there are still waiting lists for most early childhood programs across the state. Does the candidate support increasing funding for these programs so every eligible child has access to these programs?

Vote!

PTA’s tagline is “Every child, one voice.” A critical opportunity to use that voice is on Election Day, so be sure to vote on November 6th. And if your PTA does any election-related activities, remember as 501(c)3 organizations, there are limits on what you can and cannot do.

Your Advocacy Matters, Especially Now

The school year is winding down, and many PTAs and members are thinking about end-of-the-year parties and summer activities. But the end of May also marks the end of the Illinois legislative session, and many of the issues that the General Assembly still faces will have a significant effect on your child and their school. Among those issues are:

  • The state budget for the next fiscal year
  • Additional education funding for the new Evidence-Based Funding model
  • Gun violence prevention and school safety
  • Children’s mental health
  • Juvenile Justice issues

Illinois PTA will be advocating on these and other issues as the legislative session wraps up. We will be filing witness slips on various bills, testifying before committees, and contacting legislators and the governor. But the true power of PTA comes through when our PTA members join us in speaking up for all the children of Illinois.

You Already Are an Advocate

If you’ve spoken to your child’s teacher about an issue in the classroom or with your child’s learning, you are already an advocate. If you have raised a question at a PTA meeting about why your child’s school has a certain policy, you are already an advocate. If you have every spoken at a school board meeting or placed a school referendum sign in your front yard, you are already an advocate.

Advocacy is simply speaking up for another, and PTA advocacy focuses on those who have little to no voice in the halls of power—our children. Many school boards and many legislators have few, if any, individuals speaking up on a particular issue. When you can share your viewpoint and tell how a policy or a bill will have a specific effect on your child, your family, or your community, you have tremendous influence on those who make the policies or pass the bills. Don’t take our word for it, look at what PTA advocates did to get drinking water in elementary schools tested for lead.

How to Advocate with the Legislature

Illinois PTA makes it easy to advocate with legislators. Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network by going to the Illinois PTA Advocacy page and entering your e-mail and ZIP code in the Quick Sign Up box on the right.

As a member of the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network, you will get occasional calls to action in your inbox. Simply click on the button in the e-mail, which will take you to a prewritten letter to your legislators. Take a moment to add any personal information, including how the bill will affect your child or school, up at the top of the letter, include your contact information, and hit send. That’s all there is to it.

We know that these e-mails do make a difference. Legislators also take notice when Illinois PTA leaders start their testimony on a bill with, “On behalf of the 80,000 members of the Illinois PTA…” Your advocacy, and your PTA membership, makes a difference for your child and for every child in Illinois.

 

Does Advocacy Matter?

PTA was founded 120 years ago to focus on advocacy on behalf of children, and many things we take for granted today—child labor laws, the juvenile justice system, childhood immunizations, the school lunch program—happened because of PTA advocacy. But when we look back at those examples today, our thoughts may lean towards those being obvious choices—of course children shouldn’t work in dangerous factories and mines, be locked up with adult prisoners, die from preventable diseases, or go hungry at school. As individuals, we may feel that our voice is too small, that there are too many lobbyists with too much money drowning out what we’re saying. So, does advocacy matter?

At Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield in 2016, a dozen PTA advocates visited legislators and their staff to push for passage of SB550, a school drinking water lead testing bill that was stuck in committee and going nowhere. Hundreds of other PTA advocates participated in our online Call to Action to contact their legislators as well. The result was a “dead” bill suddenly moving to passage and signed into law.

The law is a great success for PTA advocacy, and we should all be proud of our efforts, but passing a law often seems abstract when trying to get others to join us in advocacy. That is why it is important to remember that passing laws or developing regulations are like only the building of a rocket. It is the implementation that is what launches that rocket.

So what has been the real effect of passing SB550? Schools have been testing their drinking water, and how that testing will benefit young children in Illinois is becoming increasingly clear. School districts across the state are having to deal with unsafe drinking water that has been harming children for decades. Note this small sample of news articles, citing schools with high lead levels:

And there are many more school districts like those listed. It should also be noted that Chicago Public Schools began testing for lead before the law was passed.

So the efforts of about 1% of Illinois PTA members advocating for children means that high lead contamination of drinking water in day cares and elementary schools will soon be a thing of the past. That will make a significant difference in the lives of each of those children, and that is why advocacy matters. Imagine what we could accomplish if every PTA member was actively advocating for children.

Get Involved Now!

Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield 2017 was last week. If you weren’t able to join us, contact your legislators now (it literally takes two minutes), and don’t forget to sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to ensure you don’t miss additional opportunities to speak up for Illinois children.